Reconnecting with the Business World

“Socially Responsible Scholarship”, Anne S Tsui suggests how business school scholars can overcome the growing criticism of irrelevant and self-serving research.

For the past 25 years, business school research has been criticised for its serious disconnection from the world of business practice and for being an insulated and self-serving activity on the part of both school leadership and individual scholars.

These criticisms seem severe but collectively we, professors and doctoral students of business schools worldwide, are spending a lot of our time writing papers with unclear value for practice or perhaps even for knowledge. It seems that we have forgotten both the scientific and social mission of scholarship.

Some deans of business schools refer to research as the “paper production function”. (A scholar used the term “machine shops” and another “Taylorising business school research”.) In such scenarios, the faculty is the workforce in the paper production factories.

Then, there are the journals, which publish the papers written by the workers in these paper factories. Journal editors (who are usually esteemed senior “workers”) use “workers” in different factories to judge the papers submitted to them in terms of theoretical and methodological rigour.

A third group, such as the Financial Times, US News and World Report or Thomson Reuters, which publishes the Science Citation Index and Social Science Citation Index, ranks the journals and the schools.

Research factories, journals and ranking publishers thus form the three legs of the research enterprise operating today.

Interestingly, practising managers, ostensibly the consumers of the “knowledge” supposedly produced, play no part unless they are needed as “research subjects”.

Researchers look to the papers published in the “top” journals for ideas to study. Their primary goal or motivation is not to help practising managers solve their problems but to garner approval from the editors and reviewers of the journals.

Journals and school rankings are important to business schools. Highly ranked schools attract the best students, outstanding scholars, research grants and endowments. Schools value the highly ranked journals because only these are counted in school rankings. Journals are ranked not by the topics they study or the practical relevance of the research but by the frequency of citations by other academic journals. The relevance of the content for management practice is largely inconsequential in the ranking formula.

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